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Tourism finding what's Illinois Made

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Hiram Toraason couldn’t keep the grin off his face Wednesday morning after watching himself on a video shot on behalf of the Illinois Office of Tourism as he did his own brand of magic – making objects of glass in his studio on Evans Street in Peoria.

“I don’t know why I was chosen. But I am very honored,” he said later, after being presented a plaque and recognized by state officials as an Official Illinois Maker. “This is for Peoria. Peoria has been very good to me.”

The event Wednesday at Toraason’s studio, a 1930s machine shop he converted about a decade ago, was part of the state Office of Tourism’s newest initiative, Illinois Made, which features products made in Illinois and the artists, indivduals and businesses who make them. The initiative recognizes these individuals and businesses statewide and Toraason was the first in Peoria.

Cory Jobe, director of the Office of Tourism, said it was he who was honored to be at Toraason Glass to present the recognition to the artist.

“One thing we really want to do is highlight the passion each person has for what they do, for what they make, whether it’s the coffee roaster, the wine maker or the glass blower. And you can feel the spirit here,” Jobe said.

The initiative, he added, was born from an understanding that visitors to Illinois look for the kind of spirit a maker of products possesses. “The travel industry is craving this type of product, something that is being made so they can experience the passion and the craft,” Jobe said.

Studies, he said, show that the international traveler especially wants that type of experience, which is important to his office because international travelers tend to stay longer at a place and spend more. But those studies also show the craving for such art is evenly split generationally among Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials.

“This does represent a new approach for Illinois and we’re excited about it,” he said, adding that the state has developed an interactive map of the Illinois Made products so tourists can explore the state and find them. That, he said, will encourage them to extend their stay so they can experience many of the state’s artists and makers.

Jenn Gordon, executive director of ArtsPartners of Central Illinois, said it is important that Toraason and other Peoria-area artists are included in the initiative. “We have so many unique talents here. Within Peoria we do, of course, recognize the arts and the talent we have. This initiative by the state Office of Tourism will help make Peoria a destination,” she said.

To date, the only individual recognized other than Toraason has been David Stine, a southern Illinois woodworker and furniture maker. Small businesses honored include Epiphany Farms restaurant in Bloomington, Marcoot Jersey Creamery in Greenville, Heritage Bicycles and Coffee in Chicago, and Funks Grove Maple Syrup in McLean County.

In the minute-and-a-half video, Toraason said when he moved to Peoria in 2003 he wasn’t sure what the arts were like here. “I realized Peoria had a thriving art scene and culture,” he said.

“It’s kind of holy ground to be able to call yourself an artist,” he said in the video.

The video can be seen at www.enjoyillinois.com.

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).